Search Warrant Requirements In Florida
Random property searches during the pre-revolutionary War era were one of the most serious points of contention between American colonists and their British overlords. Officials used writs of assistance, which were basically blank search warrants, to randomly search property for contraband. Back in those days, “contraband” was anything the British government didn’t like.
So, one of the first acts of the new American government was to pass the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. This provision sharply limits police search and seizure powers.
However, these important rights are only words on paper unless a Tampa criminal defense attorney enforces them in court. This aggressive enforcement could derail a criminal prosecution before the matter even gets to court. If there is a procedural mistake, like a defective search warrant, the state’s case often collapses like a house of cards.
Most search warrants rely, at least in part, on information provided by paid informers. These individuals usually receive money or leniency in another matter. In many cases, the money could be thousands of dollars and the leniency could be a dismissal of the other charges. Many people will say almost anything for love or money. So, unless the information these individuals provide is corroborated, the information is often sketchy.
Similar problems affect anonymous tips. If the informers are unwilling to vouch for the information they provide, there’s no reason for a judge to give it additional credibility.
Because of these problems, evaluating informer’s tips is not easy. Furthermore, current Supreme Court cases offer little guidance. So, most Hillsborough County judges look at the totality of the circumstances, such as:
- Informant’s track record, if any,
- Amount of incentive (money or leniency) the informant received,
- Time that has elapsed since the report, and
- Corroborating evidence.
That last bullet point might be the most important one. The corroboration could be ancillary. Assume Chris says his drug-dealer boss drives an Escalade. The type of car he drives has little or nothing to do with a drug transaction. But if Chris’ boss does drive an Escalade, at least Chris was right about something.
Incidentally, prosecutors cannot work backwards. They cannot argue that if the information was accurate, it must have been reliable. That’s not how it works.
Evidence reliability is not very well-defined in this area. Probable cause, the legal standard of proof required in a search warrant, isn’t very well-defined either. However, the law is very clear about what probable cause is not.
Probable cause is not a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the standard of evidence in most civil claims. Probable cause is also lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard of proof in criminal cases.
Many people still remember the O.J. Simpson murder saga in the 1990s. A criminal jury concluded that he was not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife and her companion. Later, a civil jury heard almost the same evidence and reached the opposite conclusion. That’s probably because there was not enough evidence to prove Simpson’s guilt in criminal court. But there was enough evidence in civil court.
Work with a Reliable Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. After hours, home, and jail visits are available.